Gendaseve (kenda seve) experience-walking on hot charcoal! - eNidhi India Travel Blog

Gendaseve (kenda seve) experience-walking on hot charcoal!

Kenda is the kannada word for charcoal. Wood when it burns leaves hot red charcoal. Modern city homes do not use wood or charcoal these days- your neighborhood iron man might be using one for ironing your clothes. In villages wood is still used as fuel as it is cheap/almost free and abundantly available. In coastal Karnataka, there is a ritual where devotees take a walk on a hot bed of charcoal and come out unscathed. This ritual is referred to as Genda Seve. Genda seems to be a local slang for Kenda and Seve refers to service.

As I learnt about a Genda Seve happening near my home (some 12 kms) I decided to go check it out. Had seen a poster while visiting Alemane few days ago. The Genda seve was scheduled to happen in the premises of Mallyadi Mahadevi and Sathyaganapathi temple premises on the night of 30th January 2022.

It was my first visit to experience Genda Seve. I reached the venue at about 10.15 PM. There was a festival-like environment with several shops selling ice creams, snacks and toys. People had gathered around the Genda Seve area and were waiting. It was a small setup, hardly 1 meter in length and a pile of charcoal was there since afternoon burning itself off. Pooja rituals were going on inside the temple- it was too crowded to go inside, majority had to see it on display screens. One person spread the charcoal pile into a wider area as the event was about to begin. Finally at about 11 PM the main priests (Padri) came out, took a dancing walk around the charcoal pile, along with music. Once they took a round, the main priests did step on the hot charcoal. They didn’t walk the entire length, just took two steps and jumped back.

Later it was the devotees' turn. Now there was no music. I saw many women taking the walk on charcoal one after another. These women devotees did a longer walk than the priest. I watched for a few minutes and left the scene. Not sure how many devotees walked on the genda.

How does it work? The science behind walking on hot charcoal…

While it looks scary to set foot on a pile of hot charcoal, this Genda seve ritual has been around for centuries, without any news of people burning their legs or facing any other injuries. Below are some factors that help people walk on hot charcoal

It takes a moment or two for the hot temperature to pass on to your skin and make an impact. As all devotees walk pretty fast, they would have lifted their legs before any impact of charcoal is felt.

The hot charcoal is laid out in the afternoon and sustained till the night. I think two third of it loses its hotness over this time, only a small portion of red hot charcoal is seen. Because of this it probably becomes manageable overall as most of the steps are put on already burnt out black charcoal and not on still red hot & burning ones. A few layers of ash also gives some comfort.

All devotees take bath and wet their legs, which gives a couple of seconds of extra time. But I didn’t see any water to wet their legs before stepping on the charcoal.

Is it superstition? Do people really get any benefit from walking on hot charcoal? I do not have any expertise on this so won’t comment. It is left to every Individual’s belief and choice. Don’t think anyone was forced to do this and even seemingly modern and educated people do subscribe to these ideas so if they believe in it, let them follow what gives them some mental peace.

Can we just give it a try and walk on hot charcoal?

No. Visitors are not allowed to walk on genda or charcoal just like that. You need to register for the seva by paying a prescribed fee, attend relevant pooja rituals, take bath and then be eligible to walk on the genda (hot charcoal). Try this at your home at your own risk!

Where does the Genda Seve ritual happen? The genda seve ritual happens at several temples of coastal Karnataka at various dates, usually along with their annual festivals

  • Mandarthi Durgaparameshwari Temple
  • Mallyadi Temple
  • Yelanthooru Durga Parameshwari Temple (Belve)
  • Madamakki
  • Mekkekattu
  • Maranakatte Temple

And many more.

How to find out when and where is next Genda Seve

There is no public website that you can track to get updates on next Genda Seve. The information is well known within local communities/villages. There will be posters and some local publicity but not necessarily advertised at state level for a stranger to plan their visit. Below are a few options I can think of, to identify the next event related to Kenda seve.

  • When you visit any of the temples in coastal Karnataka ask temple staff about next Genda Seve event
  • If you have a friend or relative living in coastal Karnataka ask them to update you if they learn about next Genda seve event
  • Keep an eye on relevant facebook groups/ask online and someone with the right information may guide you.
  • Take a chance and attend the annual car festival of these temples. There could be a genda seve event on the same day.

Most of these happen in evening hours, so you might also need a place to stay if you are planning to visit.

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